Google enters foldable phone market with new Pixel Fold at I/O conference

Priced at $1,799, the new phone is available to order and shipping to customers will start next month

The new Google Pixel Fold phone. Getty
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Google entered the foldable smartphones market with the launch of its latest device, the Pixel Fold, at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday.

Priced at $1,799, the phone is available to order and shipping to customers will start next month, the company said.

The new phone will be initially available in Germany, Japan, the UK and the US, followed by the launch in other markets. But the Alphabet-owned company did not share any timeline.

Powered by Google’s own Tensor G2 chip, Pixel Fold has a familiar smartphone silhouette that fits in the palm of the hand when it is folded, but opens into a 19cm-wide screen.

“We didn’t compromise on form and function,” said George Hwang, product manager at Pixel.

“Many of the Pixel components — from camera, battery, speakers and haptics technology — were cleverly redesigned to fit within the thin design.

“Our custom-built hinge not only contributes to … thinness, but also doubles as the most durable hinge out there.”

When closed, the outside display of the phone allows users to do all the usual tasks, such as responding to messages and browsing the internet.

But when the phone is open, the bigger screen gives users all the benefits of a tablet.

Pixel Fold offers various artificial intelligence-led camera experiences such as super resolution zoom, real tone, night sight and portrait photography.

You can use the exterior screen as y viewfinder and the 48-megapixel main camera to get a clearer selfie.

Foldable phones remain the one positive talking point in the smartphone market, which declined more than 11 per cent in 2022, said International Data Corporation.

Foldable phone shipments are expected to reach 21.4 million units this year, an increase of more than 50 per cent on an annual basis, the Massachusetts researcher predicts.

They are projected to reach 48.1 million units in 2027 with a compound annual growth rate of 27.6 per cent from 2022 to 2027.

IDC expects a drop in the average selling prices of foldable phones, which will eventually attract more customers.

“A 10 per cent decline in ASP helped the market grow 75.5 per cent in 2022, as foldable devices became more affordable in numerous markets,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager for mobile phones at IDC.

“With new vendors and models joining the race this year, we expect the foldable market to be the one bright spot in 2023, with 50.5 per cent growth, while the total smartphone market contracts 1.1 per cent.”

Money matters

Pixel Fold is the most expensive in the brand's line-up, which was launched in October 2016.

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold also starts at $1,799 but the South Korean company also has its lower-tier Galaxy Z Flip, the latest iteration of which starts at $999.

Coming soon with Android 14

At the I/O conference, Google also gave a peek into the experiences coming to Pixel Fold when Android 14 will be launched this year.

“Powered by Tensor G2, dual screen interpreter mode simultaneously uses the inner and outer screens to translate live conversations,” Mr Hwang said.

“With this feature, you will be able to have more natural conversations across languages, without having to huddle around a single screen.”

The growth in popularity of foldable smartphones has been largely attributed to Samsung, which pushed the category into the mainstream, starting with the original Galaxy Z Fold in 2019.

While the Pixel Fold launch will provide a boost to Google's Pixel smartphone line-up, taking on Samsung could prove to be a tall order.

Samsung is the world's biggest mobile phone maker and it holds nearly 62 per cent market share in the foldable category, way ahead of second-placed Huawei Technologies, the latest data from Counterpoint Research shows.

Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo, all based in China, have all introduced foldables but they are mostly limited to the Chinese market.

Google also launched its latest A-Series phone, Pixel 7a, and its new tablet, Pixel Tablet, on Wednesday. Both devices start from $499.

Updated: May 11, 2023, 2:18 PM